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Christmas Cheer (At Least It's Only Once a Year)

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Seven Years Before the Blackout

“Matheson and Monroe!” Miles lifted his head in drowsy surprise, not only at the fact that they had a care package but that it had come for both of them. He squinted across the table, poking his fork at the unidentifiable mush on his plate, but Bass had already leapt up to retrieve their present. Two days before Christmas and the only indication was a small, craggy tree propped up in the corner, everything around them an endless variety of tan, beige and sand. No flocked evergreens here. Not even streetlights to blink red and green.

Bass plopped down, a beat-up cardboard box clutched in both hands. “It’s from Chicago,” he announced, tearing into it with his knife. “From Ben, I guess.”

“No way.” Miles shoveled more mush into his mouth, talking around his food. “He’s never even sure which ‘stan’ we’re in.”

Reaching into the box, Bass pulled out a shoebox with a cheerfully wrapped lid, all bedecked in bows and glitter. It looked garishly and welcomingly out of place in Ass Backwards, Sand-istan. He chucked the card at Miles, tearing into what looked like lopsided gingerbread men and an attempt at rum balls.

Sliding his finger under the envelope flap, Miles pulled out a card with a smiling snowman on the front and flipped it open.

Hope this finds you both safe and in time for Christmas. Miss you terribly. Love, Rachel

“It’s from Rachel,” Miles mumbled, rubbing his thumb over her hastily-signed name. Not Ben. Rachel.

Bass was already spitting out a bite of gingerbread, nose wrinkled. “Jesus. Your sister-in-law can’t bake for shit.”

The barest hint of a smile tugged at his mouth and Miles snatched up a rock-hard rum ball, hurling it at Bass’ head. “She’s got other talents.”

“Gross, man. Keep it to yourself.”